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2021 dubbed the year of SA’s influencer economy

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 22 Jan 2021

This year will see robust growth of SA’s influencer market, as more local brands prioritise multi-channel social media influencer campaigns, fuelled by the exploding exodus to e-commerce.

Industry pundits believe SA’s exponential online growth in 2020, fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, is poised to accelerate the country’s adolescentinfluencer market, strengthened by an increase in online shopping, more businesses establishing an online presence, an increase in influencer-market-focused agencies and double-digit growth in adoption of social media platforms locally.

Brands are forecast to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022,as more companies across the globe evolve their strategies, and as influencers proliferate every niche and sub-niche interest, according to The Influencer Marketing Report.

Keke Mahlelebe, strategy partner at advertising, marketing and communications consultancy M&C Saatchi Abel, believes 2021 will see more influencers unlocking the power of fandom beyond being celebrities, which will be a key factor in the South African influencer industry reaching billion-rand status value.

“There’s never been a better time to make it rain in the local influencer market than now. The South African influencer landscape is fresh, vibrant and rich in opportunity. With digital interest and behaviour on the considerable rise, it’d be alarming to not see influencers on a client brief or media schedule.”

While influencers already make up a significant chunk of the total social and digital budget across an average local company, 2021 will only see that trend continue to grow, adds Mahlelebe.

New challenges around content limitations based on adjusting lockdown levels have forced creativity in unexpected places.

“DJs and producers have turned their bedrooms into live concert venues. A combination of a sharp increase in lockdown-related challenges and online channels in the social and digital world is making this meteoric rise possible.

“What also became instantly apparent is the incredible success of the new kid on the block – TikTok, and its ability to create instant fandom for creators, amplifiers, as well as brands, publications and communities,” notes Mahlelebe.

Ryan Silberman, CEO of influencer marketing agency Webfluential, says the pandemic has compressed the growth of digital adoption in entertainment and commerce forecast for the next five to 10 years into just two to three years.

“A number of forces have converged to fuel the growth our young influencer market, namelySA’s entrepreneurial spirit; the fact that youth have grown up with access to the Internet, devices and social media; and the launch of new and engaging platforms like TikTok in the country,” according to Silberman.

While the local influencer industry is currently estimated to be below R1 billion, Silberman believes 2021 will see the growth trend continue and significantly increase in South Africa.

“As more spend shifts into digital, brands are looking for new and authentic ways to reach their audiences. Influencer marketing as a media channel brings with it multiple advantages over other channels: cost-efficiencies in content generation, leveraging influencer trust and the ability to optimise across channel, influencer and content to drive real business results.”

Deshnie Govender, digital marketing expert and influencer.
Deshnie Govender, digital marketing expert and influencer.

Deshnie Govender, digital marketing expert and influencer, says 2021 will see SA transforming from the influencer economy to becoming the creator economy – pushed by double-digital adoption and engagement rates of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and the explosion of TikTok.

“We will see a move from the influencer mind-set to the creator economy, where the brand briefs will allow influencers to be more flexible and creative with what and how they create campaigns. Influencers will also need to take this more seriously and realise it is a business that is governed by laws and best practice. So from ensuring your SARS is up to date to disclosing paid partnerships − this is going to be key.”

While the influencer market will continue to encounter challenges − including lack of recognition and support from some brands that slashed their budgets, inconsistency in signed deals, and many influencers getting backlash for failing to disclose paid partnerships – micro influencers who focus on a specific niche are expected to see the biggest growth this year.

“2021 will see a rise of the micro influencers and niche fields. So where you would follow a macro foodie influencer, you will see vegan influencers pop up, or where you would have fashion or style influencers, we would see modest dressing influencers or plus size.

“Many will not make Instagram the influencer hotspot and we will see more video creators pop up and drive campaigns on TikTok, YouTube and podcasts,” notes Govender.